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Secrets of a Radio City Rockette

Behind the Scenes at Radio City Music Hall with Rockette Teresa Burks

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Many little girls (and boys) have dreamed about taking the stage as a Radio City Rockette -- the bright lights, the glamorous costumes, the opportunity to hang out with Santa Claus.

The Radio City Rockettes are not only beautiful and graceful, they are also world-class athletes. We spoke with Teresa Burks, who has danced as a Radio City Rockette for 11 years, about what it's really like behind the scenes at the Radio City Music Hall Christmas Spectacular.

In addition to her 11 seasons of high kicking as a Rockette, Burks has performed around the world with such artists as Vanessa Williams, Gloria Estefan and Kool and the Gang. She performed as a Las Vegas showgirl and onboard three cruise ships, including Holland America Cruise Lines as a dance captain.

This holiday season, Burks is once again back in New York at Radio City Music Hall celebrating the annual tradition of the Radio City Christmas Spectacular.

About.com: You’ve been a Rockette for 11 years! What has the experience been like?

It has been incredible! This was at the top of my wish list. This was the number one thing I wanted to do. I never thought I would be here.

About.com: What was the audition process like?

I was performing in Atlantic City and would take a bus over each day to audition in New York City, but I could only stay until 2 because of the show I was doing. I remember going up to the director and saying, “I have a gig in Atlantic City and I have to leave, can I please audition?” He said, “I guess you’ll have to come back tomorrow.” It was all worth it. The audition was intense. We had to perform tap numbers, jazz, kick lines, and the Rockettes have to sing. I was 5’6” and 18 years old – that was the minimum height and age.

About.com: What is your favorite part of being a Rockette?

I love being on the Great Stage, seeing 6,000 faces sharing this Christmas tradition together. You see some of the same faces year after year. My family comes each year. We have the traditional numbers that we’ve been doing since 1933 like “Parade of the Wooden Soldiers” and “The Living Nativity.”

About.com: What’s new about the show this year?

We have projections that go all the way overhead. There is also an interactive 3DLive video game adventure. We started rehearsals in September and have been working on that since day one. There is so much to see. We have a mother and daughter playing this video game, and the Rockettes are fighting the humbugs, who have stolen all of the Christmas toys.

About.com: There are over two dozen performances of The Radio City Christmas Spectacular weekly. How many shows does each Rockette perform in?
There are two casts in New York. Each cast includes 36 women. We break it down by morning/afternoon and evening shows so the casts can rotate. By the end of the season, each cast will have done about 108 shows.

About.com: How many costume changes do you have?

Eight. Our quickest is coming out of “Parade of the Wooden Soldiers.” We have 78 seconds for that change. I normally have 3 to 4 seconds to spare before I have to go back on stage.

About.com: How are rehearsals, and what do you do to keep in shape?

Rehearsals are intense. They are six days per week. We need to be in shape by then. I take Zumba, dance, yoga, and Pilates classes. Once I am doing the show, it’s hard to get to the gym, so I do sit-ups in my dressing room and use exercise bands. We do 300 kicks per show, and yesterday I did four shows. There’s a lot of cardio!

About.com: What do you do after the holiday season?

I am also a student at the University of Wisconsin, majoring in biology and pre-dental. I will be graduating in May. I filmed a part in New Year’s Eve. I worked with Michael Kors during Fashion Week. We get to do fun things. I will apply to dental school, but this is for after my dancing career.

Learn more about the history of Radio City Music Hall and the Rockettes

Get tickets to see Teresa perform with the Rockettes in this year's Radio City Christmas Spectacular

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